CLEVELAND — The short-staffed county jail in Cleveland keeps inmates in inhumane conditions, sometimes failing to provide proper food, health care and basics like toilet paper, and locks up juveniles in the same unit as adults, according to a scathing new report released by the U.S. Marshals Service.
The Cuyahoga County jail was reviewed following at least six inmate deaths in a four-month span from early June to early October, including some that were considered suicides. Jail officials didn't investigate or document what led to the deaths, according to the report made public this week.
The former jail director abruptly resigned after the review. Now administrators are vowing to make changes and hold jail leadership accountable.
County Executive Armond Budish said he asked local U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott to have experts review the downtown jail to see how it measures up to the federal agency's high standards, and the report shows it falls far short.
"This must change, and it will change," Budish said in a statement promising development of a comprehensive plan to address problems and keep inmates and staff safe. He said some steps already are being taken, including consolidating responsibility for medical services and having an internal auditor review policies and management of inmate records.
Budish, who got Cleveland and other towns to consolidate their jail operations into the county system, said the county relies on the state and its inspections to identify problems. He said the jail has generally been found in compliance with state standards, Budish said.
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokesman JoEllen Smith called that "a selective recounting of the facts at best" and said in a statement that the jail has been cited for 45 violations over the last five years, but the state doesn't have broad authority to force counties to make changes.
Elliott said the jail review he organized prodded more. He compared it to the difference between scanning a child's bedroom for signs of trouble and searching under their bed or behind the curtains.
"That's what the federal part is," Elliott told Cleveland.com. "They looked behind the curtains when they saw curtains. And across the board, they found it to be unsatisfactory."
The report referenced a slew of concerning conditions at the jail, including "an inadequate medical program," inmate lockdowns that last 27 hours or more, meals that don't meet basic nutritional requirements or were stored in an area that "reeked of dead vermin," and a failure to practice fire drills.
Budish and Sheriff Clifford Pinkney said issues like the emergency drills can be fixed quickly. Others, they said, will take more time.
Budish's statement gave no timeline for creating a plan to address those.